Inkstone
    Mar
    26
    2018
    Mar
    26
    2018
    The 15-year-old with dreams of escaping poverty
    The 15-year-old with dreams of escaping poverty
    SOCIETY

    The 15-year-old with dreams of escaping poverty

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    Zhuang Pinghui
    Zhuang Pinghui
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    The Beijing government says it will wipe out poverty across China by 2020. Will it succeed? Zhuang Pinghui visits a family in the northern province of Hebei.

    In the impoverished, mountainous village of Xiaoguancheng in Hebei province, a 15-year-old school girl is dreaming. She dreams of getting into a top local high school, before making it to college and then a well-paid job.

    We’ve agreed not to reveal her full name. She’s the daughter of Zhang Liansuo, a 58 year-old farmer who is unable to find other work due to health problems.

    The Zhangs are one of the poorest families in one of the poorest villages in China. Mrs Zhang is disabled, as is her 18 year-old son.

    They’re all counting on their 15 year-old daughter to look after them – physically and financially.

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    “I don’t feel bad about my family background,” she says. “If anything, it makes me more competitive with my classmates. If they can recite an ancient essay, I think I can do it, too.”

    Here in the foothills of the scenic Taihang Mountains, just three hours west of Beijing, the modernity and development of China’s gleaming cities is a world away.

    Technically, the village sits above the official poverty line of $360 per person a year. But when President Xi Jinping vowed to wipe out poverty back in 2015, villages like Xiaoguancheng were the focus for his campaign.

    Beijing has set 2020 as the year that no Chinese person should be living below the poverty line.

    More than 30 million people were still living below the line in the second half of 2017. The government has projected that at least 10 million people will be lifted out of poverty this year.

    A child in Xiaoguancheng village, Hebei province.
    A child in Xiaoguancheng village, Hebei province. Photo: Lea Li

    So far though, it seems not much has changed for the Zhangs and other villagers.

    The Zhang family earns just $193 per year from the two metric tons of corn they grow on their land. In addition, Mrs Zhang and her son receive an annual disability allowance from the government of $258 each.

    With just two years to go to achieve the anti-poverty target, many of China’s rural poor still rely on government handouts and friends and relatives, or, like the Zhang family, hope that their children will land a well-paid job.

    We’ll return to this village to see if they benefit from the national campaign.

    ZHUANG PINGHUI
    ZHUANG PINGHUI
    Pinghui is a contributor to Inkstone. She reports on China news for the South China Morning Post.

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